Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Parking Lot Treasure

You see a lot of strange things at the flea market. Some of them won’t be on the tables or trailers for sale.

I was talking to Camo-man, watching the strollers surge from table to table. When they get to his ammo, knives, targets and military surplus stuff, they either speed up or slow down to eyeball the goods.

Movement in the parking lot caught my eye and I turned from the table and looked over to see a family of four, one of the children down on his knees in the gravel parking lot. At first, I thought that he might have fallen and was hurt. Then I realized that he was scratching the dirt around a rock.

I walked over, the amateur geologist in me curious about his actions. People have told me that I have rocks in my head, but I really have them scattered around the house. Everything from crystals to volcanic slag, beach rocks and fossils. An amber pyramid, cut from petrified tree sap, sits on my desk, next to other rocks and minerals. I usually bring something back from every trip I’ve ever taken. It’s a lifelong affliction.

The father of the child looked up as I approached.
“Everything all right?” I asked.
“Yeah, he’s found something.”
The boy, about 11 or 12 was excited, “I just looked down and saw it! Right there in that rock.”

He’s pointing at a dark brown rock about five inches long and four wide. I stoop down and look closely at it. A dark, raised ridge runs diagonally across it, ending in a wider, flattened section. I run my fingers over the rock, shake my head in wonder.
“It’s a snake fossil! I don’t believe it! Probably been here for years, people driving and walking over the top of it. How did you notice it?”
The kid shrugged, “I just looked down and saw it.”
His father shakes his head, “Who knows how big that rock is.”

They had been digging around it with their fingers and house keys. My truck was parked about fifteen feet away, I turned and headed towards it.
“Let me see if I’ve got something.” I rummaged through the tie-down straps, rope and other farm necessities in the area behind the truck seat before I realized that I would have to unload the mess to get to my tire tool. Backing out of the truck, I went over to Camo-man.

“You got a shovel or something I could…?” his look of disbelief stopped me short.
“Just what is it that you’re doing?” His look wasn’t encouraging, as the thought flashed through my mind that I was digging up someone’s parking lot. I shook my head.

“Nothing, the kid’s found a fossil, I need a pry bar or something.” I turned to the young couple next to Camo-man. They’ve been trying to sell t-shirts for the past month. “Hey, you wouldn’t have a shovel or a pry bar would you?”

I get the ‘are you crazy’ look from the blonde in the pink hot pants, while her boyfriend looks blank for a minute, then dives into his truck and comes out with a small nail-puller pry bar. “Will this work?”

I grab it, it’s brand new, look over at him, “Yeah, if you don’t mind me digging up a rock with it.”
“Go ahead, you can’t hurt it.”

The family is staring across the parking lot at me. Waving the pry bar, I dodge back from a car creeping through the lot. The driver and passengers surprised to see a scruffy man waving a pry bar around, like he’s about to put it through their windshield. The car accelerates past me. I cross over to the fossil family.

“This will do the trick.” I turn the sharp, flat chisel-edge down, lean on the curved prying section and lever into the dirt around the rock. It embedded, years of rain, cars and people stepping on it have sunk it into the parking lot.

Scribing around the edge, dirt flakes away, smaller pebbles break loose and roll off. I work the pry bar down into the gravel, finally getting under a section of the rock. It comes up out of the ground with smaller rocks still clinging to it.

I peer closely at it, turn it over, looking for other fossils in it. There isn’t any visible, but the rock needs to be washed off to really know. The kid hovers next to me, as if I’m going to steal his treasure.

I hand it to him, “Great eye! That’s a real find, a complete snake, except for his head.” I point out the indentation where the head should be, the only part that’s been broken out of the fossil.
The kid’s ecstatic, he’s about to jump out of his skin. Show it to his folks. His mother and father are beaming. I turn back to the kid.

“Hey, do me a favor. Take it over and show those guys.” I point towards the young couple and Camo-man. “They let me use the pry bar, so you should at least show them what you found.”

The kid nods, eager to show off his prize. We stroll over to the tables and everyone looks at the snake fossil.

People shake their heads in wonder, disbelief, and some, with a touch of contempt.

After all, it’s just an old snake, stuck in a rock for the past 50,000 years or so. Who cares?

I guess you had to be there.

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